Agar or agar-agar, is a jelly-like substance, obtained from red algae. Agar is a mixture of two components: the linear polysaccharide agarose, and a heterogeneous mixture of smaller molecules called agaropectin. It forms the supporting structure in the cell walls of certain species of algae, and is released on boiling. These algae are known as agarophytes, and belong to the Rhodophyta (red algae) phylum.
Agar is a naturally gelatinous powder derived from marine red algae. It's the perfect vegetarian substitute for beef gelatin in any food application, and makes an excellent thickener for soups, jellies, ice cream and more.
Agar has been used as an ingredient in desserts throughout Asia, and also as a solid substrate to contain culture media for microbiological work. Agar can be used as a laxative, an appetite suppressant, a vegetarian substitute for gelatin, a thickener for soups, in fruit preserves, ice cream, and other desserts, as a clarifying agent in brewing, and for sizing paper and fabrics.
The gelling agent in agar is an unbranched polysaccharide obtained from the cell walls of some species of red algae, primarily from tengusa (Gelidiaceae) and ogonori (Gracilaria). For commercial purposes, it is derived primarily from ogonori. In chemical terms, agar is a polymer made up of subunits of the sugar galactose.
Agar has no calories, no carbs, no sugar, not fat and is loaded with fiber. It’s free from starch, soy, corn, gluten, yeast, wheat, milk, egg and preservatives.
It absorbs glucose in the stomach, passes through digestive system quickly and inhibits the body from retaining and storing excess fat. Its water absorbing properties also aids in waste elimination. Agar absorbs bile, and by doing so, causes the body to dissolve more cholesterol.
A great substitute to gelatin:
Agar is the perfect substitute to traditional gelatin. It’s made from a plant source rather than from an animal one. That makes it suitable for vegetarian and vegan diets, and other diet restrictions.
Agar has no taste, no odor and no color, which makes it pretty convenient to use. It sets more firmly than gelatin, and stays firm even when the temperature heats up.
Though agar is a great substitute to gelatin, don’t expect the same results when replacing gelatin with agar in a recipe. First, it doesn’t give the same texture. Gelatin can give a «creamy» texture whereas agar gives a firmer texture. And agar is much more powerful than gelatin : 1 teaspoon agar powder is equivalent to 8 teaspoon gelatin powder.
How to use Agar:
– The most important thing to know is that agar needs to be first dissolved in water (or another liquid like milk, fruit juices, tea, stock…) and then brought to a boil. It will set as the ingredients cool down. You can not add agar flakes or powder as it is in your food.
– You should definitively follow the package directions and the recipe to determine which quantity to use. But here is a basic rule you can adapt : use 1 tablespoon agar flakes to thicken 1 cup of liquid, and 1 teaspoon agar powder to thicken 1 cup of liquid.
- Here is the basic «recipe» to use if you can’t boil your liquid directly.
- Dissolve 1 tbsp agar flakes or 1 tsp agar powder in 4 tbsp hot water
- Bring water to a boil
- Simmer for 1 to 5 minutes for powder and 10 to 15 minutes for flakes
- Mix well with warmed ingredients
- Let it cool to set agar.